Global low sulphur fuel transition

In October 2016 the International Maritime Organization agreed that, as of 1 January 2020, all ships and vessels will be required to use fuel which contains a maximum of 0.5% m/m sulphur.

This is a reduction of the current limit of 3.5%, which has been in effect since 2012. Sulphur emissions impact both human health and the environment.

Amendments were made to Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) in 2008. The changes set tougher regulations to control airborne emissions from ships, including sulphur oxides (SOx). Prior to the 2016 decision, a review found that sufficient compliant fuel oil would be available globally to meet the 2020 date.

As well as using fuel oil with a sulphur content of less than 0.5% m/m, you can use alternative fuels such as methanol or Liquefied natural gas (LNG), or compliant marine diesel oil for smaller vessels, to comply with this new regulation. Diesel fuels are generally below the 0.5% m/m sulphur content threshold, particularly those available in Australia. Ships can also use an IMO approved equivalent method to reduce sulphur oxide emissions—such as an exhaust gas cleaning system (scrubber)—provided the resulting emissions are equivalent.

Australian ships, ports, refineries and fuel suppliers will need to prepare for the global implementation of this regulation. Australia is actively engaging in discussions at the IMO to develop measures which will aid in the transition to fuel with a lower sulphur content. AMSA is consulting closely with relevant stakeholders in the lead up to those discussions. To be included in the consultation, email

Last updated: 

Thursday 11 October 2018